My #VIII Greatest American Of All Time

Ida B. Wells is remembered during Black History month but it is hard to find much about her in American history books.  However, in my thinking, she is the 8th greatest American of all time. 

Ida B. Wells was born a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862 — six months before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. At 14 she became a school teacher. When she was 16 both her parents died of yellow fever and Ida B. Wells moved to Memphis, Tennessee where she continued to teach school.

In 1884 Wells was ordered to move to the segregated Jim Crow car of a train. The 25-year old school teacher refused.  Here’s a quote from Ida B. Wells:

“I refused. The conductor tried to drag me out of the seat, but the moment he caught hold of my arm I fastened my teeth on the back of his hand. He went forward and got the baggage man and another man to help him and of course they succeeded in dragging me out.”

Wells hired an attorney in Memphis to sue the railroad. She won the case in the local court, but the Tennessee Supreme court reversed it and she had to pay $200.00 in court costs.

People wanted to know about her experience so she began to write for black owned newspapers. Her editorials critical of the inadequate black schools caused her to lose her teaching job. Wells continued her writing and in 1889 she became a part owner of the Memphis newspaper, Free Speech and Headlight.

In 1892, three of Wells’ friends were lynched in Memphis because a white owned grocery had lost customers to their grocery store. After the murder of her friends, Wells wrote: “There is only one thing for us to do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in courts; but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.” Then a mob burned down her paper’s office and she was forced to leave Memphis under threat of her life.

Ida B. Wells settled in Chicago. In 1893 she published a pamphlet denouncing the exclusion of blacks from the Chicago World’s Fair. She also wrote a book called: Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases. Wells worked and wrote tirelessly against lynching, for women’s right to vote, against the segregation of Chicago schools, and for many other just causes. She helped found several organizations, including the NAACP.

Wells is best known for her courageous work against lynching in America. Between 1880 and 1960, there were more than 4,000 documented lynchings in the USA. She wrote: “Brave men do not gather by the thousands to torture and murder a single individual, so gagged and bound he cannot make even feeble resistance or defense.”

Through out the years of public lynchings in America, the US government remained silent and passive. In 2005, the US Senate passed a resolution apologizing for not enacting anti-lynching legislation.

Ida B. Wells’ life-long and courageous stand against racial injustice makes her my #8 greatest American.

About Steve Simms

I like to look and think outside the box. I have written two books: Mindrobics: How To Be Happy For The Rest Of Your Life and Your Sperm Won--Experiencing Your Value As A Championship Human Being. In college I encountered Jesus Christ and I have been passionate about trying to get to know Him better ever since. My wife and I lead a non-traditional church in Nashville based on open participation and Spirit-led sharing. We long to see the power and passion of the early church come to life in our time.
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6 Responses to My #VIII Greatest American Of All Time

  1. Bruce Dickey says:

    Excellent article on a little known American I’ve not heard of myself. Makes you just want to repeat her name a few times to help remember it.

    Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells, thanks for fighting for a just cause and not giving up. Your story reminds me of Rosa Parks. May God bless our country and may racism that divides brother against brother, fall away.

  2. Steve Simms says:

    Bruce:

    Few people have heard of Ida B. Wells and most of my other Top 10 Americans. Only one of the ten is famous nowadays.

    American history has a tendency to forget some of its boldest and bravest heroes. However, once we discover them, their lives and stories are very powerful.

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